No Progress on the Social Front: Struggles over Social Justice in MENA

Conference in Tunis and online in cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the University of Sfax

Image shows logos of PRIF, FES and the University of Sfax and the conference title

Socio­economic grie­vances were a main driver of the Arab up­risings in 2011 and of many mass pro­tests in the region ever since. Yet, while the socio­economic situation did not im­prove and even se­verely de­teriorated in the course of the Covid-19 pan­demic, past and recent changes in eco­nomic and social poli­cies have not re­ceived much attention. If a debate about socio­economic reforms takes place at all, it is domi­nated by rather techno­cratic per­spectives.

In contrast, we contend that socio­economic policies are deeply po­litical, em­bedded in domestic and inter­national power relations, and likely to fuel societal con­flicts. The con­ference “No progress on the Social Front: Struggles over Social Justice in the MENA” there­fore brings to­gether scholars, practitioners and activists from the region and beyond to discuss how domestic and ex­ternal actors have dealt with the socio­economic challenges since 2011. Which re­forms have been pursued, which effects did reform policies have and which con­flicts among political, economic and social stake­holders did they create? And what are the con­sequences of the on­going struggles over social justice for political change in the MENA region?

Three panels, two key­note addresses by Isabel Ortiz (Director of the Global Social Justice Program at Joseph Stiglitz’s Initiative for Policy Dialogue of Columbia University) and Prof Gilbert Achcar (SOAS, London) and a round­table discussion will tackle these questions with a focus on:

1) the interplay of the domestic and the external level: IMF reforms in the region

2) social inequality and social activism: from 2011 to a post-Covid MENA

3) social justice and democratization: socioeconomic explanations for the political crisis in Tunisia

When: March 1718, 2022
Where: Hotel Laico Tunis, Human Rights Square, 1001 Av. Mohamed 5, Tunis 1001 / Online

You can join the conference either in presence in Tunis on 17 and 18 March, 2022, or via Zoom (click here to register via Zoom). Please register at samira.ghazouani @fes .de until 16 March, 2022. Click here to download the invitation and program. 

The conference builds on the work of two research projects. You can find more information and publications on the projects’ websites.

We believe that the coming years will be crucial in many regards, such as social (in)­equality, social protection and the fiscal space for in­vestment and de­velopment. We there­fore hope to stimulate a fruit­ful ex­change and en­large networks between ex­perts and activists in the field of social justice in the MENA to provide a critical view on new and old reform policies and their im­pact on the every­day lives of people in the region.

PRIF and the University of Sfax gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Volkswagen Foundation for their research and the organization of this conference.